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Floyd Edward Anderson

HOW ONE COMES TO BE A WRITER IS OFTEN A LONG and involved story; it becomes more so when one born and brought up a Lutheran becomes a Catholic writer. For writers are not born; they are sell-made products, and an ordinarily prolific writer may find it difficult to put down in words an informal portrait of himself. But in writing, as in everything else, the place to start is at the beginning.

That was July 15, 1906, in Superior, Wisconsin, where I was born, the oldest of the eight children of John Elmer and Paula Anderson. Writing ability was not very evident in those early days; I still vividly recall, with a certain wry chagrin, an incident in English class at Superior's Central High School. We had been assigned Mother's Day as a theme topic; my offering was a miracle of shortness, for I could find nothing to say except the fact that it was celebrated on a certain Sunday in May each year. It so impressed the teacher that she read it aloud to the class and then remarked,"That wasn't very long, was it, Mr. Anderson?"-to the accompaniment of my flaming face. But then verbosity was never considered a Scandinavian trait!

However, now it is a different story, when one is often paid for his work on a per word basis. It is possible to supplement the bare facts, even to embellish a little, if need be, to meet the stipulated quota.

But there were evidences, even then, that words could be put together if there were sufficient need and desire. The News Tribune, in neighboring Duluth, Minnesota, had a humor column of verse and prose quips and comment. One month its editor, with an eye to profiting from the intercity rivalry, started a contest to see which city could boast the most contributors. That month, if I recall not too modestly, I was represented by six names, to help put our city on top in the contest. The interests of rivalry having been satisfied, that particular contest was stopped; but one of the by-products was a rather affectionate poem addressed to one of my pen names, Isabelle Ringgin--from a friend who lived down the street. I never dared to tell him who Isabelle really was.

Oddly enough, that poetic urge cropped up in later years, with some verse published in the Saturday Evening Post and The Torch; but prose has been my mainstay through the years.

In the early 1930s I came to New York, intending to study economics and finance. However, in the course of my studies, a Catholic friend of my father introduced me to the Wilfrid Parsons, S.J., editor of America, and soon I was working for America, first as secretary and then as editorial assistant. My Catholic writing-and my Catholicism--stem from that time. Also during this time occurred one of the most significant events in my lifemy marriage to Joy Eder of New York City.

My close association with the Jesuits who staffed America stimulated an interest in the Catholic Church, and after some years, and a very thorough course of instruction, I became a Catholic. At the time it seemed to me that I had to push rather hard to get my Jesuit friends to tell me about the Church; I can realize now that they were being very careful not to disturb my Lutheranism, not to take advantage of the fact that I was working for America. Those years I look back upon as among the most formative of my life, professionally, culturally, religiously; and I shall be forever grateful to America and its fine Jesuit editors for their many kindnesses to me.

Father Parsons gave me many opportunities to write; and soon I was writing for America and other publications in the United States, and for G.K. 's Weekly, the Distributist paper headed by G. K. Chesterton in London. This continued till I left to return to my native Wisconsin, where I worked outside the press field and wrote some articles and fiction, but concentrated more on radio programs for my Catholic activities.

Returning East some years later, I came back to the Catholic press field, first in the business office of America from 1945 to 1948, next from 1948 to 1951 as managing editor of The Catholic Light, Scranton, Pennsylvania, and then as the first managing editor of The Advocate, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey. The Advocate was established in 1951.

After the first hard years of helping to found a new diocesan newspaper, I began to do more outside writing -stimulated by a family of seven children and their cultural and economic needs. The latter need no explanation to anyone familiar with the financial problems of raising and educating a family; the former may be equally familiar, with the constant requests of small children for bedtime stories. As these were embellished with retellings, they began to seem suitable for possible publication. And many of them were, both in Catholic and general juvenile and educational magazines. There were, of course, many articles written on current subjects for the Catholic magazines, and at one time or another I have had articles in most of those published in the United States.

From the juvenile short stories to books seems-looking back, that is-as not too far a step. Thanks to the generous assistance of Edward Weiler of the Bruce editorial staff, The Bishop's Boy (Bruce, 1957) was published in the Catholic Treasury series. It was basically the story of the Church in the New World about the time of Bishop Carroll, first bishop of the United States, told through the eyes of a young New Jersey lad who traveled with Father Farmer, a famed Jesuit missionary stationed in Philadelphia, and later with Bishop Carroll.

This was followed by Father of the American Navy (Benziger, 1959), the story of Captain John Barry, in the Banner series for children.

Next came Father Baker (Bruce, 1960), a popular account for adults of the many-faceted career of Monsignor Nelson H. Baker of Lackawanna, New York. He was known throughout the world for his great works of charity and for his devotion to Our Lady of Victory, through whose intercession many highly unusual cures have been reported.

In the more or less immediate future are to be two children's books, one on the life of Mother Seton, and the other of Bishop Manogue, first bishop of Sacramento, California, who worked as a young man in the gold fields, and then came back to Nevada and California as a priest to work among the miners. These will be followed by a study of the American Catholic Press, scheduled for 1961.

How does a writer write? I cannot speak for others, of course; but I write by sitting down in front of a typewriter and working at it. Research must be done, of course; ideas cultivated and nourished-and I have the theory that ideas come more and more frequently as they are used, somewhat like plucking flowers to make others come along more quickly.

Writing-granted some native ability-is largely a matter of application, of applied intelligence, of polishing the abilities that God has given you; and, as Sinclair Lewis and a host of others have said, applying the seat of the trousers to the chair.

Having been a stenographer and secretary and being able to type fairly fast has been of great benefit. My fingers on the typewriter can come reasonably close to keeping up with the flow of my thoughts. Cutting down the time required in putting words onto paper gives more time for study, research and thinking, all of which are of prime importance to the writer.

Then, too, I try to "edit in my head," as someone has phrased it; and start with the premise that each draft is the finished product. Usually it is not; but refusing to be careless in even a first draft, writing with the intent of preparing an acceptable manuscript the first time, aids me, I believe, in doing a better job. In any event, psychologically I find it difficult to write unless I have all the trappings of a finished draft in the typewritergood bond paper, carbon and carbon paper.

This method often means doing pages over; it may be necessary to type the opening a half-dozen times before a satisfactory version is achieved. However, I believe this is a saving of time, since the opening often determines the tone, the character, the approach of your piece. And if the opening is changed after you finish the manuscript, it may mean trying to change the tone throughout, and sometimes unsatisfactorily.

One's favorite types of writing can change from year to year. My first pieces were mainly economic and sociological; then children's stories; now they are still that but tending toward the biographical and historical, such as the juvenile books I have been and am still writing.

The history of the Catholic Press in the United States fascinates me at present, partly because in April, 1960, I finished editing the first Catholic Press Annual, which is an effort to gather together over several years the history of the Catholic Press.

There is, however, so much of our Catholic history in the United States that is so exciting, glamorous, and frequently unknown, that one could almost make a career of resurrecting it, of digging it from archives and files of libraries, newspapers, chanceries, seminaries and elsewhere. This is a work for scholars, of course, but it is also a work for those who can bring the past to life in popular treatment for Catholics of today.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Anderson was named a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope John XXIII in 1959. A secretary of the Catholic Press Association of the United States for many years, in 1960 he was elected vice-president and re-elected a director. He is also a director of the International Federation of Directors of Catholic Publications. His other memberships include the Keys, the Overseas Press Club, St. Ansgar's Scandinavian Catholic League, the Holy Name Society, and the Knights of Columbus.]

Originally published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig, Sixth Series, 1960.


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